LYNN HAVEN, Fla. (WMBB) — One of the two remaining defendants in the Lynn Haven corruption case is seeking a separate trial in hopes of distancing himself from some of the accusations aimed at the city’s former mayor.

James Finch, the owner of Phoenix Construction, and former mayor Margo Anderson, are facing a host of charges in connection to five city projects. However, while prosecutors had hoped to prove that Finch was part of a large conspiracy connected to all of the alleged crimes Finch’s attorney has repeatedly pointed out that Finch was not connected to two of those projects.

Six people, including the former city manager and the former city attorney, have already pleaded guilty in the case. Former city commissioner Antonious Barnes pleaded guilty in a separate matter but is expected to testify that Finch bribed him.

In a motion filed this week Finch’s attorney, Guy Lewis, is asking Judge Mark Walker to split up the defendants.

“As a result of the government’s maneuvering, Defendant Finch is being placed in a fundamentally unfair position. Requiring him to participate in lengthy, complex, convoluted, multi-million-dollar theft and fraud allegations involving World Claim and ECS will eviscerate his constitutional right to a fair trial,” Lewis wrote.

He added that this complexity will not only be unfair to Finch but could also easily result in a mistrial as jurors struggle to understand the case.

“The presentation will involve dozens of witnesses, hundreds of documents, conflicting theories and convoluted evidence and law. It will be impossible for a jury to keep the ECS and World Claim allegations separate from the allegations regarding Finch’s so-called ‘business interests,'” Lewis wrote. “Asking
the jury and the parties to follow the proof and defenses applicable to each, and to sort out and apply evidence and the law in a pick, choose and parcel method is fraught with legal error. The better course is to
have separate trials to confine such evidence to the defendants against whom it may properly be used.”

The charges in the case are based on alleged illegal activity in these five projects:

17th Street:   Finch allegedly bribed Anderson and City Commissioner Antonious Barnes to support his projects with the City of Lynn Haven. In addition, Finch obtained one of those projects, the 17th Street Project, through a bid-rigging agreement with other companies.

ECS: Erosion Control Specialists (ECS) allegedly bribed City Manager Michael White, Anderson, and City Attorney Adam Albritton and received hurricane cleanup and trash pickup contracts in return. ECS also submitted false invoices and, when those invoices were paid, allegedly paid kickbacks to Albritton.

Debris Disposal: Unbeknownst to the City, a company that employed Albritton directed city contractors to use that company’s property to dispose of debris. After a meeting with Anderson, Finch, White, and the owner of the other company, Anderson directed two other companies to dispose of debris at one of Finch’s properties. Anderson also allegedly vetoed White’s plan to designate city-owned property as a disposal site and secured state government support for a plan to use Finch’s site. At the same time, Anderson allegedly accepted things of value from Finch.

WorldClaim: WorldClaim, a public adjusting firm, approached a contract engineer with the city for help in getting a city contract for hurricane claims. Worldclaim offered the engineer a percentage of whatever they recovered. The engineer, in turn, approached Anderson and White, offering free services from WorldClaim. Anderson and White signed an agreement with WorldClaim using Anderson’s post-hurricane emergency powers. WorldClaim, in turn, allegedly provided them free or reduced services.

Rebuild: After Hurricane Michael, the City had to rebuild many of its facilities. Finch allegedly bribed Anderson for inside information and to exert pressure on city officials to aid Finch in obtaining the rebuild project at a significantly higher cost than the City would pay through its already-planned rebuild project. 

It is unclear when Judge Walker will rule on this motion. It is also unclear how that could impact other aspects of the case. For instance, Finch is currently paying the legal fees for both himself and Anderson.

The case is scheduled to go to trial on November 28